Archive for July, 2007

Learning routines

Since our baby was about six months old we got him to recognise and acknowledge the concept of ‘NO’. Of course the repetitive ‘no’ or stern ‘noooo’ sinks in, but I made a point of getting his attention and shaking my head. Before long he understood. By eight months old – at an age when he was asserting himself and trying to see how much he could cognitively get away with – he would respond by shaking his head in reply.

This must be one of the most delightful and rewarding aspects of our development process together. Think for a moment about this. I see he is going to, or has done something that I really discourage (especially if its dangerous) and interrupt his comfortable world of play-exploring to get serious. This gets his attention. ‘Luka’, I stearnly say, and wait for him to look at me. ‘No’, I instruct him, shaking my head and repeating myself. After a pause he vigourously shakes his head (never looks me in the eye) and moves onto something else.

He acknowledges its forbidden or ‘not good’ and moves on, not wanting to dwell on it. This I think is an important breakthrough and disciplinary action. I make him admit it’s wrong rather than constantly deny him things. Sometimes when he really doesn’t want to stop, or admit that he knows he shouldn’t have done it, he goes quiet, stares at the ground, holds out a little longer to see if he can get away with it, then vigourously shakes his head (still staring at the ground)! It’s as if he’s saying, ‘ok, I admit it was wrong, can we move on now, it’s no big deal. This is great, it’s an intelligent and cheeky response which I’m pleased with.

For an eight month old who is only just crawling I thought this was quite pleasing. He now uses it to signify to us he doesn’t want something, like his water or milk (though he’s also taken to pawing it away with his hand). Now he’s nearly 15 months old and we still communicate like this but we’ve augmented it with the positive recognition – hand clapping.

Before I go on, I must mention that from the outset I’ve tried not to be a ‘no dad’ – in other words a control freak who stops him at every step if there is the slightless chance of danger or mess. This is in stark contrast to his grandmother who minds him all day and has limited confidence in his safety due to a lack of knowledge. I think it’s better for his development to give him confidence to explore, to find out what fits where, what happens when you do this or that, what’s in here or there.

If it means he trashes your bookshelf, or keeps digging into your wallet and leaving the money strewn all over the floor, so what. As long as you use a little judgement. If he likes fiddling with the volume knobs on the stereo even if it’s near electrical plugs then I keep an eye on him and let him go ahead until he actually does find danger. I really do think this is an important aspect of how I intend to raise children. I want them to be adventurous, curious, confident to go ahead with trying new things out, seeing what happens, and learning by doing themselves.

This is counter to a typical Thai cultural trait to do as you’re told and follow the system. And living in Thailand I can see the shortcomings of a nation of people who’ve been through an education system that teaches you what to think rather than how to think. Classrooms full of kids learning by rote an obediently doing exactly as their told since the system gives none but the elders and power holds the priviledge of ‘knowing the way’.

So, back to the encouragement of figuring out and doing by yourself – which I believe is at the heart of child-learning. And since this blog entry is getting a bit long I’m going write a new entry for the positive routine of learning. The self-congratulatory ‘hand clap’…

Here he is taking a bath in the sink some months ago.

bathing-in-the-sink.jpg

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Congratulating positive learning – clapping hands

Clapping hands is one of those clever little things parents teach their children to impress everyone and your child should be able to do this (with some repetitive encouragement) by 18 months old, if not sooner. Clapping hands is part of singing activities and mimicking of parents, but in our case its reserved (at this stage) for self congratulations when something right or challenging has been achieved.

We taught Luka to clap his hands when he had completed a task that was worth doing. We would clap, as a sign that he had done well, and soon he caught on and tried it himself – babies love trying to mimic their parents to get recognition. Now he does it out of habit to signify he has successfully completed the task, no matter how simple it is.

It all started with the piggy bank routine. Noting how he like to insert things into each other, like phone charger jacks, plugs and so on, we made a simple piggy bank and hung it from a cupboard in the office. He likes seeking out coins – usually by raiding my wallet, so we taught him to start saving his pocket money by depositing the coins through the slot. He liked this one, and now he makes a bee-line for the hanging piggy bank everytime he finds a coin. In fact it’s gotten out of hand because he knows (at 16 months) where the wallet is kept in the office draw and frequently fishes it out, finds the coins and then waddles over to deposit them in his piggy bank.

When the penny dropped (no pun intended) we would clap hands as if to say ‘well done, you’re saving money’ – so he learnt to clap too, and every time he manages to get the coin into the slot (which is still quite an exercise in dexterity for him) he then claps his hands upon hearing the crunch of coin on the pile of nickel. Scarcely a penny is deposited without him grinning and clapping his hands as if to say ‘right, job done’.

Of course we have gotten him to extend this to other important co-ordination/learning tasks like shape shorters, which he’s still getting the hang of. When he finally figures out where the crescent block goes and gets it correctly positioned (often with a little guidance from dad), he laughs and claps. We clap to, just to remind him.

So, clap, clap, clap. Soon he is clapping at all sorts of things. Handing is dad the mobile phone which he’s picked up because it was ringing. Successfully putting a spoonful of food into his mouth with his own hands. Turning off the fan when I ask him, or inserting the car keys into the lock when we have a chance. These all get a hand clap. And whenever there is a chance to let him do the task, I let him, for he loves to be involved and feel important. And he loves to get a clap.

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